Reuniting With Birth Families in International Adoption

The Washington Post recently wrote a feature on two American teenage adoptees who were adopted from Eastern Europe, one from Russia and one from Kazakhstan, and how they traveled back to their homelands with their families.

The feature focused on Deanna Torstenson, 17, who was adopted at the age of two by an American family. According to the article Deanna began asking about her birth family at a very young age, always wanting to know if she had brothers and sisters in Kazakhstan. Deanna’s parents eventually turned to International Adoption Search, a company that searches for and contacts birth families in Russia, Kazakhstan and the Ukraine. According to the article, 14 months later, when Deanna was 10-years-old, the family received a letter from International Adoption Search that said they had found and contacted Deanna’s birth mother. Deanna’s birth mother, Maryam, was told that her daughter died in the hospital and was in tears when the researcher told her that Deanna was alive and well.

Often in international adoptions, the adoptive family does not receive a lot of information on the child’s family history, which makes it more difficult to search for the birth family. Deanna’s mother, Karen, said in the article that the search was difficult at times because she never expected her daughter would be able to contact her birth family.

“I guess I’ve had some mixed feelings over the years,” Karen said in the article. “It wasn’t something you expected to have happen. In international adoption, you don’t expect you’re ever going to have the birth family be part of your life.”

Deanna was so excited to receive this information that, according to the article, she began taking Russian lessons and made plans to visit her birth family with her father. This past summer those plans came to fruition when Deanna and her father traveled to Kazakhstan to see her birth parents and siblings. While Deanna fit right in playing with all of her siblings, she and her father were affected by the living conditions. The article said that Kazakhstan can get to 40 degrees below zero in the winter, and the snow and mud can make traveling to-and-from their home town impossible 10 months out of the year.

“You read about poverty, but when you see it, especially when it’s your own family… There’s so much they’ve never seen and will never see,” Deanna said in the article. “It’s kind of amazing to think, what if I had lived that life?”

According to the article Deanna still keeps in contact with her birth family through letters and occasional Skype visits and hopes to see them again soon.

If you are interested in growing your family through international adoption, it is important that you work with a Hague Accredited adoption agency, such as Adoption STAR. Each country has its own regulations and it is important to work with a reputable orphanage. For more information on Adoption STAR’s international adoption programs, please visit the Adoption STAR website.

We would love to hear from those who adopted or were adopted internationally about any experiences they’ve had finding birth family members.

If you would like to read the full Washington Post article and view the photo gallery from Deanna’s trip to Kazakhstan, please click here.